New York commuters' 'summer of hell'

Workers respond to the scene of a subway derailment, Tuesday, June 27, 2017, in Harlem.

Story highlights

  • New York's Gov. Cuomo declared a state of emergency on the Metropolitan Transit System
  • MTA has 6,000 trains and 5,700 buses running in the five boroughs
  • More than 700 subway cars are too old to be on the tracks

New York (CNN)New York's commuter rail lines, subways and buses carry about 9 million riders every day. Six million of those souls cram into the subway system's vast underground maze each day.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, besieged by complaints about faltering service and infrastructure problems, sounded the alarm on North America's largest transportation network on Thursday -- declaring a state of emergency at the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).
As part of the disaster declaration, Cuomo committed $1 billion to the MTA capital plan during a speech at the MTA Genius Competition, which was organized to foster new ideas to fix the subways.
    "It's going to be like that movie 'Planes,Trains & Automobiles' and we're preparing for what we call a 'Summer of Hell,'" Cuomo said, referring to the 1987 movie about a simple trip home becoming a slapstick ordeal.
    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a rally earlier this year.
    The $1 billion will be in addition to agency's $15 billion operating budget for the 6,000 subway cars and 5,700 buses the MTA uses now. The governor did not specify where the funds would come from.
    Cuomo is giving MTA leaders 30 days to come up with a game plan, and they have their work cut out for them with more than 700 subway cars older than their 40-year expiration date.
    The MTA is run by the state, not the city government, and critics say the governor is a big part of the problem.
    "The governor has stopped ignoring the problem, which is a vital first step. Now he needs to produce a credible plan to fix the subway, and to put together the billions of dollars we will need to make it happen," John Raskin, executive director of The Riders Alliance, said in a statement.
    The Riders Alliance is a grassroots group of New Yorkers who have been advocating infrastructure improvements for years. Raskin says the public transportation system has been a low priority of the government and that's why the city's transit system is in decay.
    Here is a sampling of recent transit mayhem:

    Off the rails, then off to court

    A subway derailment in Harlem Tuesday morning injured 39 and brought the subway to a grinding halt for the day.
    One injured rider filed a $5 million lawsuit against MTA.
    "[I had] passed out for a second," said Sheena Tucker at a news conference at her attorney's office Thursday afternoon.
    She also said that after she'd "vomited," "choked" and had been "stepped on" at the scene of the derailment in a tunnel above 125th Street on Tuesday, her "side still hurts" and she's "just in a lot of pain" still, CNN affiliate WPIX 11 reported.
    Tucker's lawsuit is sending a clear message to the MTA, according to her lawyer Sanford Rubenstein.
    "MTA -- fix the trains," Rubenstein, said.

    Stranded underground

    If they're not sliding off the tracks, subway cars -- some with equipment nearly 80 years old, according to Gov. Cuomo -- will stop without warning deep in the dark tunnels.
    In early June, a packed subway train with a broken air conditioning system was stranded stopped in a tunnel in Lower Manhattan for nearly an hour, CNN-affiliate WABC reported. After finally rolling up to a platform, some desperate riders tried to claw their way out of the cars gasping for air.
    It got so hot on the train that a passenger was able to scrawl, "I will survive," on the humidity-covered train doors.
    MTA authorities attributed the problem to power failure and launched an investigation into the incident.